Think globally, buy locally
I headed down to my local beer shop to see what was available for the home brewer. I was pleasantly surprised to find a decent selection of grains and yeasts, as well as some equipment. The best part, however, was talking to a real, live human about brewing. He was able to give me some advice/pointers without making me feel stupid. I love forums and blogs and wikis as much as anyone but sometimes a conversation with a knowledgeable person in meatspace is invaluable. Here are some things I learned:
- Because so many farmers are switching to corn to meet the biofuel demand, the price of hops and grains has gone up significantly in the past year. A crop-killing freeze in Europe has exacerbated the problem.
- Buying bottles for your brew is expensive. It is often more economical to buy beer and reuse the bottles. (Plus you get to drink the beer.)
- There is a dizzying number of grains, hops, yeasts, and additives that you can use to create unique beer recipes. That’s a good thing but it’s also a little overwhelming.
I ended up buying 3 things: a “beer kit,” a cleanser, and a hydrometer. I’ll get to the beer kit in a minute. The cleanser is One Step No Rinse Cleanser by Brewcraft USA. It is supposed to be environmentally friendly and easy to use. The hydrometer is a triple scale beer and wine hydrometer, 60° F. It does not have a brand on it so I can’t link to anything but it’s just your basic hydrometer. I have seen these online for a little less but by the time you add shipping, the price is about the same.
Have your cake and eat it too
The beer kit is Cooper’s Stout hopped malt concentrate. It is to home brewing as a cake mix is to baking. A cake made from scratch by an experienced baker will always taste better than a cake mix, but using a cake mix increases the chance of an edible cake for the novice. With the beer kit, you add water and sugar and in a few weeks you (hopefully) have 6 gallons of Australian stout. I know that this will not be “true” home brewing but I decided to go with the beer kit because it will allow me to experience the mechanics of home brewing while simplifying the process. The “kit” includes the concentrate, a yeast pack, and instructions.
Paper or plastic?
I am the type of person who, when given a choice, will chose paper over plastic at the grocery store. Likewise, I prefer glass containers to plastic. I’m just not a big fan of plastic; to me it represents the cheaply made, disposable, petroleum-dependent, big-box crap that our consumer-driven society is drowning in. For that reason, I had planned to use a glass carboy (big ass jug) as a fermenter rather than a plastic bucket fermenter and glass bottles. I have changed my mind, however.
Part of this experiment is to produce a batch of home brew as cheaply as possible. Glass carboys cost $30+ both locally and online. I scoured the thrift shops for a used carboy but didn’t find one. I will continue to look, as I still want to use a glass carboy as my fermenter, but for my first attempt at brewing at least, I will use a plastic bucket.
Fermenting buckets are supposed to be made of food-grade plastic. However, there is some debate over what “food-grade” means. After reading this discussion of acceptable plastics, I’m going to find an HDPE or PET bucket and make my own fermenter. All I need is a 6+ gallon bucket with a lid, and I’ll drill a hole for the gas vent and possibly a spigot to make bottling easier.
Yes, I said bottling. I had planned on holding off on buying bottling equipment but I was showing my ignorance. Part of the fermentation process occurs in the bottle. The carbonation is actually created in the bottle so it’s not something I can skip. While it is cheaper to buy beer and save the bottles than to buy new bottles, I would need 64 12 oz bottles for the 23 liters (about 6 gallons) of beer that the beer kit makes. That’s a lot of beer for someone that is ready to get this process started. You can buy plastic bottles for reasonable price, but they are the same bottles that you buy soda or water in. So, now the plan is to buy some bottled water and reuse the bottles.
Cost so far
- $20 – malt concentrate (beer kit)
- $8 – hydrometer
- $5 – cleanser
$32 – total